Just two days after being knocked out of the national rankings, women's soccer played like a number-one team.
Chicago trounced third-ranked Wheaton (Massachusetts) 4-1 in Friday's home opener, playing in front of a near-capacity crowd. Perhaps channeling the postseason atmosphere or the prospect of beating a Division III powerhouse, the Maroons (2-1-1) out-hustled, out-toughed, and outscored their opponents in a convincing wire-to-wire effort. The Lyons' (3-1-0) defense succumbed to the relentless offensive pressure in surprising fashion, conceding the most goals in one game since 1995 and more than they had in their entire 2004 regular season (3).
"It was great to be here and to have an opportunity to take the number-three team in the country," said head coach Amy Reifert after the win. "It was such a great team effort, but it's still early. We're trying to establish ourselves."
"I want us to get to a point where we feel we should hammer these sorts of games home."
After about 10 minutes of back-and-forth action, the Maroons took complete command of the midfield and, as a result, the game. Fourth-year forward Renee Neuner tallied her third goal of the season in the 35th minute, scoring on an untouched cross that found its way past the keeper. Chicago took 12 shots in the half to Wheaton's two but went into halftime with only a one-goal lead.
A similar effort in the second half bust down the floodgates, though, as the Maroons got on the board early and often. Fourth-year center defender Diana Connett chipped in fourth-year midfielder Jacqui de Leon's helper just one-and-a-half minutes into the period to build a 2-0 lead.
The Lyons cut the margin back to one at the 60-minute mark with Teresa LeBel's deflected free kick past screened fourth-year goalie Andrea Przybysz. As good of a sign of dominance as any, the Maroons responded just 14 seconds later. Third-year attacker Maya Pratt headed in first-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele's cross, making it a 3-1 score in the blink of an eye.
"Possession in the midfield [was the key to victory], and it was our forwards receiving and holding balls," Reifert said. "Last Saturday, though we created a lot of great chances, we didn't do that well, we had a lot of opportunities fall through the cracks. That didn't happen today because we maintained possession all the way through, and we gave up less in transition."
Neuner closed out the scoring on a penalty-kick goal with a low shot that blew by diving second-year keeper Stacey Kronenberg in the 83rd minute. That penalty kick, along with the one that Neuner scored on September 3 against sixth-ranked Ohio Wesleyan, was manufactured by second-year forward Christine Farmer, who in this game toyed with Wheaton's right back for much of the second half before being tackled in the box.
Przybysz sealed the game for the Maroons with a two-legged save of first-year Angelamaria Viscomi's 84th-minute penalty kick.
"Our defense just made solid decisions," Reifert said. "We stepped up, won 50/50s, and didn't allow them to get into their offensive game."
The Maroons headed up to Wisconsin the next day for an afternoon tilt against Carthage (1-1-1) and wound up with a similarly dominant defensive effort but nothing offensively in the scoreless tie. Chicago attackers struggled to finish on the team's 10 shots on goal.
With Friday's upset over Wheaton will probably come a return to the national rankings, though it will also restore the spotlight that leads opponents to gear up specifically for matches against the Maroons. It was surprising that the team ever dropped out of the polls, however, as Chicago's only loss came 2-1 against then-sixth-ranked Ohio Wesleyan. The team, which began 16th in the preseason poll, followed up the next day with a 1-0 shutout of then-14th-ranked Denison.
"We played great last weekend and came away with one win when we should have had two," said Reifert, referring to the team's 1-1-0 opening weekend.
In the season opener against Ohio Wesleyan, speedy first-year Bishops forward Michelle Corbett all but defeated Chicago on her own, taking advantage of defensive breakdowns for a pair of unassisted goals. The Maroons generally outplayed their opposition, taking 16 shots to Wesleyan's 13, but the team's only tally came from Neuner's penalty-kick equalizer at the 26-minute mark. With the score tied at one, Corbett scored the game-winner at 64:06, and Chicago failed to complete some good scoring opportunities.
Because of Przybysz's 85th-minute red card, second-year netminder Amanda Sutter started her first career gameher five minutes in the opener was her first collegiate game actionagainst Denison. Women's soccer needed a great debut performance by Sutter, who turned in a five-save shutout under consistent pressure from the Big Red.
Backups also contributed the only offense needed, as first-year midfielder Nachtergaele finished first-year midfielder Olivia Ndyabagye's cross at 43:15. Fourth-year forward Lexi Binder also got credit for the assist.
"Obviously the freshmen are going to be ridiculous," Reifert said.
After a couple road affairs, the Maroons return home for perhaps their biggest non-conference match of the year. They host top-ranked Wheaton of Illinois (3-0-0)last year's defending national champions and the squad that knocked Chicago out of the postseasonon Tuesday at 4 p.m.